A guide to foraging in western Michigan

A local couple offers weekly classes to teach people safe and ethical foraging practices.

As the price of groceries continues to rise, foraging is becoming increasingly popular. If you’re unfamiliar, this is where people forage for their own food in the wild. It may sound simple, but there are some very important things to know before eating what you find in the woods.

Fortunately, local couple Katie and Luke Venechuk are ready and willing to help.

Katie is the founder of In Your Element Wellness, a company that offers nature-based programs throughout the year. She offers a variety of classes, including forest bathing and yoga, but it’s the foraging that offers a truly unique experience.

“In these classes we talk about all the different wild edibles and medicinal plants that we can find in the forest, depending on the time of year,” Katie said. “We help people understand how to identify, how to harvest ethically, how to harvest legally, and all the different gifts of nature that we tend to pass on and sort of see as a wall of greenery, but they each have their own individual characteristics. .”

She said her first foraging adventures came many years ago while hiking. She wanted to add natural flavor to her food without having to carry extra stuff. Since then, Katie said she had gone through formal training and continued to learn through her personal experiences. She recommends others do the same before consuming anything found in nature.

“It takes a long time to learn a plant,” Katie said. “There’s so much detail, so it’s important to have a few resources to check what you’re eating or using in any way before you have it interact with your body. I like to look into published books. There are some really wonderful food foraging books that are written by local herbalists and different people all over Michigan and all over the Midwest Searching for books on blogging is usually a good way to go because blogging is always written with wonderful intent, but they are not necessarily always referenced.

His golden rule is to always have at least three reliable sources. And no, the app on your phone doesn’t count.

“These are a wonderful source to have, but it’s just a clue. It’s a clue, a starting point,” Katie said. “Foraging is a lifelong learning experience, and we don’t necessarily learn to forage for food. We learn a plant, then we learn another plant, then we learn another plant. There is a point in your experience where you begin to learn about a particular plant. where it becomes so familiar it’s like a flashlight on the landscape.

Like anything, if you study long enough, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. She likened it to studying for an exam, but with plants you can also use your senses more.

“If you take the time to sit down and notice what you can also learn by looking closely and touching and smelling, really taking the time to notice all the different aspects of this plant, you will come to the point where you you’re so familiar with it and recognize it so well that you have that confidence,” Katie said. “It’s like when you go to the grocery store and you see an apple. You’re like ‘it’s an apple.’ ‘ If someone said ‘it’s a pineapple’ you’d say ‘no it’s not’. It’s an apple.’ You get to this point! Once you start to really pay attention, there are very clear differences. It’s just a matter of being patient and starting small. And if there’s a plant you’re worried about a little, it’s always nice to spend a whole year with it.Get to know it through its growing season, then when you’re comfortable, you can eat it.

While Katie specializes in plants, her husband Luke is a mushroom specialist and the founder of Can I Eat This Foraging Company. It is licensed by the State of Michigan to sell picked mushrooms at farmers markets or restaurants.

“It all really started with very knowledgeable parents who wanted to share what they knew and their love of nature,” Luke said. “We’re taking it more seriously and really getting organized for the last 2 or 3 years.”

When it comes to wild food, he says, it’s important to know what you’re eating.

“Certain plants can harm you and send you to the hospital immediately. There are mushrooms that can do that too,” Luke said. “There are a lot of very tasty gourmet mushrooms, but there are also mushrooms that can hurt you if you misidentify them and eat them.There are poisonous mushrooms.

He said there are several considerations a person must take into account, whenever they eat. First and foremost – safety.

“You need to be 100% certain of what you’re eating before you put anything in your mouth or in your body,” Luke said. “The next is ethical foraging. You don’t want to go into the woods or some wild place and take more than you should and hurt a population or harm the balance of life that exists. The third is legality. You are allowed to forage in certain places, but you may not be allowed to do the same type of foraging in other places. So it’s important to know what the laws are where you are, what you can do and what you can’t do. It is important to know the ethics of what is acceptable to a plant population or a fungal population, and what is harmful to it.

He said the weekly foraging classes allowed him and Katie to continue to expand their area of ​​knowledge and share it with others. He said all the classes were well received and he wishes they could do them more often.

“We met a lot of great people,” Luke said. “It’s broadened our life, and we get out a lot because of it. We appreciate those around us and the seasons, so it’s been really great. From a personal point of view, it’s been fun for us , but I also think it’s good for people to have a reason to get out into nature in Michigan and appreciate everything around us.

“We can spend a lot of time learning technology and Instagram and social media, and then in five months that changes,” Katie said. “But if you learn a plant, then you will always know it until your old age. You will cross over and say ‘hey, I know this plant, I have enjoyed it all my life and I have eaten it.’ evolves to feel like a gift, and when you share that with your family, it really is something special.

Katie and Luke recently started a new program called Rent-A-Forager where they come to your property and teach you about the edible plants and fungi growing on your land. To learn more, click here.

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